If somebody told you that one secret characteristic will guarantee your job performance and career success, you would probably want to cultivate it, right? New research has let the cat out of the bag. Psychologists examined the Big Five scientific model of personality traits that include extraversion, agreeableness, conscientiousness, openness and neuroticism. The Big Five model is used to find a match between personality, job role and general life success. Measuring the five dimensions of your personality identifies the jobs that best fit you. The model can help companies recruit and retain personalities best suited for certain jobs. If you’re a quiet, shy employee who prefers working alone, for example, a high-pressured sales job might not be your wheelhouse.
In a new study, scientists pinpointed one personality trait out of the five that is most essential when it comes to job performance and career advancement: agreeableness. If you’re agreeable, you’re easy to get along with, cooperative and approachable and work as a team member. You tend to be more optimistic, less skeptical and hostile. Based on their findings, the researchers synthesized eight general themes that best describe how agreeableness functions to benefit both employees and businesses.
- Self-transcendence. Having aspirations for self-directed growth and motivation to show care and concern for others
- Contentment. Accepting life as it is, and an ability to successfully adjust to new contexts and institutions
- Relational investment. Motivation to cultivate and maintain positive relationships with others
- Teamwork. Empathetic capacity to coordinate goals with others and ability to cooperate effectively, regardless of role, to accomplish collective objectives
- Work investment. Willingness to expend effort on tasks, do quality work and show a responsiveness to the work environment
- Lower results emphasis. A generally lower emphasis on setting goals and producing individual results and a tendency to rate others’ performance with greater leniency
- Social norm orientation. Greater sensitivity to and respect for behavioral compliance with social norms and rules and avoidance of rule-breaking and wrongdoing
- Social integration. Capacity for successful integration into social roles and institutions and a reduced likelihood of delinquency, antisocial behavior and turnover
One of the authors of the study Michael Wilmot, assistant professor of management at the University of Arkansas, said, “We know this is important—perhaps now more than ever—because agreeableness is the personality trait primarily concerned with helping people and building positive relationships, which is not lost on organizational leaders.”
In fact, studies have shown that work engagement and productivity increase when employees feel seen and cared about from company honchos. In the workplace, you never know the hidden emotional burdens employees, coworkers or employers carry on a daily basis. But when employers hold their judgment at arms length and get curious about an unpleasant or unacceptable employee situation, it can help them respond in a more agreeable manner and contribute to a caring, collaborative work culture.
Gridlock occurs when company higher-ups or a colleague are stuck in their own points of view, unable or unwilling to see a workplace issue from an employee’s vantage point. They communicate their feelings as facts and turn a deaf ear to another person’s thoughts and feelings because they’ve already decided they’re right. They force that point of view by commanding, finger pointing or criticizing and judging. Gridlock between two parties in the workplace leads to defensiveness, criticism, withdrawal and in some cases contempt—four signs of a complete breakdown of communication that creates negative morale and distrust in management, and lower job satisfaction, motivation and productivity.
Practicing agreeableness doesn’t mean you’re a “yes employee.” It means you have thick enough skin that you can entertain a coworker’s point of view without arguing or getting defensive. You’re willing to suspend temporarily your point of view, try to see another’s perspective and try to work out a collaborative solution. You’re not an appeaser, and you don’t make yourself a doormat or endorse poor job performance. Agreeableness takes you out of gridlock from your own perspective and lets you see a situation from a colleague’s vantage point even if you disagree. It enables you to respond to job issues with less judgment and animosity and more maturity, objectivity, fairness and equability. The key to creating a strong and healthy workplace is good communication. Agreeableness between management and employees and among coworkers is mutual, flows freely and has the following five qualities:
1. Both parties are willing to openly communicate about workplace problems and concerns.
2. Neither party is interested in conflict, judgment and criticism or in negative interpretations of each other’s actions.
3. Both parties strive for a harmonious connection through empathy and respect for the other’s point of view.
4. Overwhelming episodes of appreciation are frequent, and both parties are susceptible to receiving compassion and empathy and have an uncontrollable urge to extend it.
5. Both parties use a win-win strategy, instead of a win-lose approach, which automatically removes tension and conflict so that both parties benefit.
Given that job hoppers in the Great Resignation are looking for more humane work cultures, companies can use this new information to recruit and retain employees who demonstrate agreeableness who are best suited for certain jobs.